Pool: A tale of three reviews

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I re-subscribed to The New York Review of Books last week. I had let my subscription lapse a few years ago as issues piled up unread.

The reason I re-upped was a long essay about five books on Texas by Annette Gordon-Reed in the current issue.

Discussed in the essay are recent books by Larry McMurtry, Lawrence Wright, and Stephen Harrigan.

McMurtry previously wrote “The Last Picture Show” and “Lonesome Dove,” one made into a movie and the other a mini-series, remain permanent fixtures in my memory.

Lawrence Wright‘s book is called “God Save Texas.” His earlier book “The Looming Tower” is a masterful and terrifying account of the background and events of September 11, 2001. He also has written a highly regarded book on Scientology.

Stephen Harrigan has also written a new history of Texas, “Big Wonderful Thing.” His historical novel “The Gates of the Alamo” is a superb account of that pivotal battle in a tale dripping with verisimilitude.

Other books on anti-Mexican violence in Texas history and the importance of the Lone Star State in constitutional law round out the review.

The New York Review of Books often features essays written by scholars or authors who know their subject deeply. It’s not uncommon to find several books reviewed at once, which gives the writer great latitude to present and evaluate the ideas of others.

I used to subscribe to the London Review of Books. It has its high points, such as a current article on the surveillance state emerging in China.

Like other publications, the London Review of Books allows non-subscribers to select a few articles each month for online reading. At its best, it is a fine publication, and it’s sometimes valuable to read about British politics there.

While the New York Review of Books leans left, as does most of the American intelligentsia, there are plenty of articles on non-political topics. I found the London Review of Books to be wearingly predictable in its left-wing stridency, to the point that I just didn’t want to read it regularly.

I have one more current subscription to a book review. I get the Claremont Review of Books, which I regard as the best conservative review, at least in regard to political issues.

I had a subscription a few years ago, and I re-subscribed when I realized that if I wanted clear and thoughtful commentary generally approving of the current administration, that’s where I should go. I’m committed to reading on both sides of our current political chasm.

It is particularly useful in following the factions and fissures at a time the Reagan-era “movement conservatism,” or “fusionism” consensus on the right seems to have run its course. Something else is being born, and not everybody on the right is happy about it.

In the current issue, Michael Anton reviews a book, “Bronze Age Mindset,” by an anonymous anti-democratic writer. By anti-democratic, I don’t mean someone opposed to the Democratic Party, but to equality under the law, elections, and all the foundations of western democracy.

Anton informs his readers what the “alt-right” is up to, and how what they believe is very much different from the values most conservatives — including ones who support the current administration — hold sacred.

The Claremont Review of Books, like the others, also reviews non-political books. The quality is good, though they seems to draw from a smaller well of talent than does the New York Review of Books.

Good reviewers summarize book for readers who will never read them, and they direct other readers to books they will read with profit and relish.

A great book review is a masterpiece of the essayist’s craft.

— Frank Thomas Pool is a writer and a retired English teacher in Austin. He grew up on Maple Street in Longview and graduated from Longview High School. His column appears Tuesday.

Today's Bible verse

“If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve. ... But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

— Joshua 24:15

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